January 01, 2006

Why do kids hate school?

Kids hate school because they hate they way they are treated by the people at school. For many students, school is not a positive, useful, or even educational experience. Sometimes it’s other kids, sometimes their teachers, sometimes it’s just they way they see themselves in the context of the school they attend. The problem is not learning. Kids love to learn. They love to feel successful. They soak up knowledge like sponges, when they are equipped to do so. But our students do not come to school equally equipped. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not. Kids can be expert at hiding their disabilities and feelings of inadequacy. So what are teachers to do?

Well, we can take the neo-conservative attitude that the kids' problems are the kids' problems and not our problems. Or we can take the liberal position that we need to change the type of human beings the students are. Both approaches feel like no-win situations to me, and here’s why. If teachers consider themselves to be conduits of information only, and that the success or failure of the student is solely the student’s responsibility, then the teacher is not teaching. This is how Dictionary.com defines teaching. Yes, the teacher “imparts knowledge,” but skills are achieved through doing, not listening alone. The fourth definition, “to cause to learn by example or experience,” says that we need to get involved in the learning process with our students. We need to get our hands dirty and our feet wet working with our students. To teach students how to learn, we need to be involved in the learning process ourselves, right along side our students. Some of the best teaching years I’ve experienced have been when I’ve taught new courses where I literally kept “one step ahead” of the pupils. I learned along with them. Sure, those were not years of polished lectures, and perfect assignments, but I was actively involved with my kids, and that made the experience better for them and me. There were no manufactured “ah-ha!” moments, but instead we shared our discoveries. Now I don’t advocate that every teacher teach like this every year, but there is a benefit to both student and teacher when learning happens organically.

However, teaching is a profession, and that means fewer “organic” moments and greater standards, structure, and discipline. True, our students do not come to school perfect people. More true is that teachers are never going to make students perfect people. It’s not within our power, nor is it our responsibility. Really, teachers are just there to teach. Everything else is extra. And today, there are a lot of extras. But that is where NCLB and California’s focus on the Content Standards come in. Used to be that teachers could pretty much do anything they wanted to in their classrooms when the bell rang and the door closed. That’s when teaching was “fun.” Sure, the students may not have scored over 1200 on the SAT, but hey, they had a great time learning about making masks for the Greek dramas. As students achievement, especially in California, fell further and further behind, a renewed emphasis on strict, and focused classroom instruction arose. Whether you like NCLB or the Content Standards, or not, the goals established (higher test scores and greater student achievement) are beginning to be met. But many classroom teachers will tell you that curriculum today is dry, and that “teaching to the test” is not the best way to be an effective educator.

So a happy medium? How does a teacher present dynamic engaging lessons full of authentic learning experiences while striving to raise test scores? Post your great ideas and useful links below and lets find out.

It’s important because we want kids to love, not hate school. I teach elective courses. Core teachers often look at elective courses as meaningless fluff, and some are. But my courses, and those of my colleagues, challenge our students to use and apply all that they are taught in their core classes. In English, students learn to write essays; in electives, they write essays about what they have created. In Algebra they learn to used mathematical equations; in electives they use math to calculate a variety of equations and apply their results. But most importantly, the students have fun while they learn. Perhaps it’s easier to structure an elective course around enjoyable learning. However, I use the Content Standards in all of my lessons, and all students need to be prepared to take the same end-of-course, and standardized tests. I don’t believe that just because the subject matter is dry that the course needs to be boring. School can be fun and effective; as I have already written here: School is suppose to be fun?

Kids who are connected to campus like school better and achieve better success. I believe that a big part of a students’ success at school comes from their overall experience at school. If they hate school, they will not be successful. Students who are less involved tend to enjoy school less, and are less successful students. Those who play sports, an instrument in the school band, participate in a club, or act in the school play tend to love school. They are connected with the campus and other students. They feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. Furthermore, their participation in extracurricular activities requires them to maintain their grades (at our school a 2.0 GPA is the minimum). One of the beefs I have with NCLB and the Content Standards are the lack of recognition for the importance of extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, not all students can participate in everything a school can offer. For some, the only time they can spend on campus is during the school day, moving hourly between our classrooms. So the experience of every student in each one of our classrooms is vitally important. If students think that you don’t care about them personally (and no, caring personally about students is not in the job description) then many of them will not strive to achieve. Already faced with learning disabilities, problems at home, and very few successful scholastic experiences, they will simply shut down and fail. They will hate school. They won’t achieve, they won’t learn, they won’t succeed, and all your time and effort invested in teaching will go without positive constructive results. We can’t do the work for them, we can’t change their lives off-campus, but we can make their experiences in our classrooms positive, useful, and even educational.

Please post your comments below.


  1. Greetings Cal Blogger,

    Long time reader of your posts, first time replying. :)

    I don't think the majority of students hate school. From my experience, almost all of the students seem pretty happy in the morning when they arrive at school.

    School doesn't become a negative place until they have to sit through a double period of Math or Language Arts spending another day preparing for the big state test that will determine the outcomes of the rest of their academic lives.

    With that, I would say that students feel more disenfranchised than angry, and maybe a bit unstimulated by being "taught to the test" day in and day out.

    Interesting topic, yet again.

    Ciao, Michael

  2. I really liked your article and I wish you were my childs teacher can you move to Salmon Arm B.C.? If we had more teachers with exactly your beliefs then maybe I would have a 11 year old boy who liked school. What you describe is exactly word for word happening to my son. He has spent alot of days home with me because of emotional meltdowns and feelings of inadequency. He stays home we do homework that I have gotton from the school. We bake and do craft projects. He loves staying home I am thinking I will have to home school him. He just got his report card on Friday and he got B's all across except from one teacher in LA and Science C-. It was really disheartening for him because he has worked really hard in LA. All his assignments were handed in on time and the teacher told me the quality of work his does is really quite good. He does not accomplish any of his work at school, it is all done at home with me as his teacher assistant. After talking with another mother of a boy in his class he told me her son got a C- but he has never cracked a book at home or ever seen him reading and she could not count the assignments he has not handed in. Go figure. Why not set kids up for success. I am desperate. Thankyou for listening to me.

  3. Kids hate school not only because they are being forced to learn something they aren't interested in but because of the other kids. Kids these days get worse and worse, with extreme bullying,swaring,namecalling, and thretening. There is also a wall between each clique. If you are not like they are you aren't good enough. If you don't dress like them you aren't good enough. Then there is also a wall between the rest of them and the populars. If you aren't good looking enough then you aren't good enough. Face it kids have to go through a lot more nowadays then when you went to school.